Has the Swastika served its time as a symbol of hate?
Should we fear this auspicious symbol forever? The Swastika is one of the oldest symbols known to man, the symbol itself is an equilateral hooked cross and can mean different things depending on the angle or direction it faces.
“I do not like the use of the word svastika outside of India. It is a word of Indian origin and has its history and definite meaning in India. * * * The occurrence of such crosses in different parts of the world may or may not point to a common origin, but if they are once called Svastika the vulgus profanum will at once jump to the conclusion that they all come from India, and it will take some time to weed out such prejudice.”(Wilson, 2010)
The symbol itself is over fifteen thousand years old and has been discovered in all four corners of the world amongst numerous religions and cultures. Some of the earliest archaeological evidence that we have of the swastika in the Indian subcontinent can be dated as far back as 3,000 BCE. The swastika is an important symbol for many religions, Hinduism is one of the oldest to use it. In the Hindi language the word itself is derived from the Sanskrit language which early evidence places this language in Northwest India at four thousand years. Sanskrit is one of the oldest known languages we use today. In Sanskrit the word has three roots; the first; “su” meaning “good”, the second, “asti” means “exists”, “there is” or “to be” and then “ka” meaning “to make” it usually translates to “making of goodness” or “marker of goodness”.
Christianity and Judaism also used the Swastika in different variations over the years. In China the infamous Famen Si temple in Xian, Sha’anxi still has the symbol on display on their thousand Buddha wall. In India the symbol is widely used in stores, houses, temples and many other public places, the only symbol more important and more frequently see than the swastika is the Sanskrit Om Symbol (Add image).
Pre WWII the Swastika was used by large companies such as Coca Cola, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the ‘Lucky Star’ American Flag, Carlsberg (1930) and the Swastika Drug Store (1912), to mention a few.
“We do not want people to forget the sorrow, we just want people to remember the good as well.”(Madsen.P. 7th December 2017)
In 1919 when the Swastika was introduced to Hitler, something happened with the symbol that would change the way it would be perceived and create a symbol of hate for years to come. The Nazi party took the Swastika and incorporated it with their idea of, Aryan cultural descent of the German people. Hitler Says in Mein Kampf-
“As National Socialists, we see our program in our flag. In red, we see the social idea of the movement; in white, the nationalistic idea; in the swastika, the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work”(Hitler,2008)
Since WWll many white supremacists have taken the Nazi version of the swastika and continued to use it to fuel their hate towards people of different race or colour. From the Aryan Brotherhood to the KKK and far between, these gangs and organisations are continuing to keep this religiously auspicious symbol down and make it a stigma within regular western society. Many subcultures have used the symbol on their clothing, bikers on their ‘biker cuts’, some Punks would use pin badges to show the symbol and certain Skinheads have also donned the logo.
It may have served its time as a symbol of hate, but could it ever have the same reception it had before 1915 and be given back to the Hindu people to use freely?
1 Where did the Swastika come from?
No one knows the exact origin of the symbol, it is generally presumed to have IndianAryan origins. It has been known by so many different names and ironically we still use the Indian name, ‘Swastika’, in England it was known as the ‘Fylfot’ and in China it is the ‘Wan’. After a recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand, I discovered that the swastika was quite rare in public areas, however it can still be found in Chinese Buddhist temples around Bangkok. (Add image). In Buddhism it is believed that the swastika symbol is considered to be auspicious footprints of the Buddha himself. (Add image).
In Hinduism the symbol is openly used in two different facing variations. The right facing Swastika is classed as a male symbol and represents prosperity and wealth, Ganesha, the Sun sign, one of the one hundred and eight symbols of god Vishnu. The left facing Swastika or Sauwastika, because of the anti clock wise movement, is considered a bad luck as it represents women particularly the goddess Kali, so it represents darkness, death, and destruction. It is still used today as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the form of hymns and or chants.
“Few symbols have had as much impact as human kind as the Swastika. No other mark has turned up in so many disparate cultures, suggesting some kind of enormous migration of diaspora of peoples joined by a common belief or understanding.” (Heller, 2000)
One of the oldest discoveries of the swastika is a small ivory figurine of a female bird made from an ivory Mammoth tusk, it was discovered in 1908 near the Russian border and is fifteen thousand years old which pre dates even the Egyptian symbol the Ankh. (Add image)
The Ankh is one of ancient Egypts most recognisable symbols, commonly known as ‘cross of life’ or ‘the key of life’, it dates back to the early dynastic Period between 3150 – 2613 BCE. The Ankh is a cross with a loop at the top, it is sometimes ornamented with symbols or can be decorated but most often just simply a plain gold cross.
“It’s the oldest identified swastika pattern in the world and has been radio carbon-dated to an astonishing 15,000 years ago.”(Campion, 2014)
The word Swastika comes from the Hindu word Swatine, which means “wellbeing”, it symbolises goodness from all four corners of the world with the four dots representing the elements (Add image). The Swastika is meant to be colourful in appearance, often, orange or red like the rising sun. Certain sects of Buddhism usually associate it with good luck, prosperity and purity, In Japan they still use it on maps to establish Buddhist temple locations, this is currently under review as they are due to host the Rugby World Cup and the summer Olympics in the next four years and if it goes ahead they will change them to a pagoda. The GSI feel that multicultural maps will make it easy for foreigners to understand. (McCurry, 2016)
The symbol is also still active on Hindu and Buddhist houses around the world, it was often used on art and artefacts from pre-Christian European cultures. Dr Malcom Quinn, Professor of Political and Cultural History at the University of Arts, London said that, he was not aware of any building other than temples created since World War Two in England featuring Swastikas. And while the swastikas design may well be used in India and Asian architecture, its future use on public buildings seems unlikely. (Cawley, 2014).
Many buildings over the years have been made in the shape of the Swastika, including the US Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado (San Diego Bay), California, which was built in 1967 (add image) and resembles the symbol. In Devizes, Wiltshire a dozen houses were built in 1960 in the shape of the Swastika but, Wiltshire Council said it did not know who designed the homes and had no further comment. (agencies,2017)
The symbol experienced a resurgence in the late nineteenth century, following extensive archaeological work such as that of the famous German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. In 1873 Schliemann discovered what was believed to be Troy and at the site what we now know to be a Swastika the hooked cross on the site of ancient Troy in modern Turkey.
Pre 1920s the Swastika was used by several large companies including the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials which used the symbol on highways passing through Native American lands (ADD IMAGE). It was used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. The symbol represents whirling logs, the Whirling Log symbol is associated with an old story were a man (often named the ‘Culture Hero’) who took a journey down the San Juan River in a hollowed out log canoe. To the Hopi tribe it represented the wandering Hopi clans.
In 1940 the Council for Native Americans met and decided they would no longer use the symbol on their crafts they produced and sold, instead they burnt all their products with the symbol on.
Adolf Hitler’s rise to power began in September 1919 when Hitler joined the political party known as the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – DAP (German Workers’ Party). Due to the great depression in the 1920s there was a rapid rise in unemployment in 1929–30 which provided millions of jobless and dissatisfied voters, the Nazi Party exploited this to its advantage. Hitler’s was appointed German chancellor and his Nazi government soon came to control every aspect of German life in 1933, after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act. The Enabling Act was a law that was passed by the German Reichstag in 1933 that enabled Adolf Hitler to assume dictatorial powers in Germany.
The belief that the German race descended from the Aryan race is one theory of why the Nazi party formally adopted the swastika or as it is known in Germany, the Hakenkreuz (German meaning hooked cross) as its symbol in 1920. The National Socialists regarded their flag as being an embodiment of their party. The red expressed the social thought underlying the movement, while the white was the national thought. The swastika signified the mission “allotted” to them, the struggle for the victory of Aryan people. Hitler says,
“I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.”(Hitler.2008)
“The Swastika is a symbol that belongs to the entire human race, they appear in many different forms and in almost all our ancestral cultures, existing for more than 15.000 years with different names” (Manseed.F. Facebook 2017)
Over the course of time the Swastika has been used my many countries and cultures around the world. In west Africa, they often printed the symbol on Gold Paperweights, strangely enough it wasn’t used in central Africa. In Scandinavian countries the Norse often refer to Thors Hammer (Old Norse Þórshammar) as a Sun wheel or Swastika and it was often carved on hammers. In America the US Army used to have it as a good luck symbol on their fighter planes pre World war two, once the war started a lot of pilots painted the symbol on their planes to show how many Nazis they had shot down. They also used it as a tribute on some road signs that ran around Indian Reservations for the Navajo Indians, up until 1940 when they decided to take them down after the Indian council elected to boycott the symbol and burn all their hand made merchandise with it on. The Swastika in its different variations is still visible around many places in the United Kingdom today, Burlington House, a building on Piccadilly in Mayfair London, was built in the 17th century and has the Swastika around the exterior (Add image). A variation is even present in St Andrew’s Church in the Tympanum, near Great Durnford in Wiltshire, Dr Malcolm Quinn, of the University of Arts London, believes these are just coincidence and that the symbols just have similar symmetry to the Swastika. A Natwest bank in Bolton’s Derby Street, has two swastikas on its floor, when the public asked them to eradicate them back in 2006, the request to remove them was turned down. The bank pointed out that in 1927 when the building was built the swastika was very popular and commonly used in architecture. (Add Image)
From many small companies to huge corporations like Carlsberg and Cola, that used it as a key chain in Germany, it has been well used due to the positive messages it conveyed to different cultures.(add image)
The Hindu community are still using the symbol widely around India and have even fought the European Union as they wanted to completely ban the symbol in Europe according to Jay Lakhani a Theoretical Physicist and also a speaker on Spiritual humanism. The Hindu community are at present allowed to use it in their temples and homes around Europe (Excluding Germany). Where this is a good thing for the Hindi people, in some European countries it is illegal to publicly display the symbol, some will fine you and others you may receive time in prison. The German criminal code prohibits the public use of any Nazi symbol “political party which has been declared unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court” (Keating 2015), including the book Mein Kampf and the Nazi Salute. Punishments can range from, fines or up to three years in incarceration.
In 2016 in an upmarket tattoo parlour in Copenhagen, Peter Madsen hoped to start a revolution for the symbol. He adds that in Norse mythology it holds a strong appeal to Scandinavians, he created a ‘Swastika day’ where people could get a free Swastika tattoo to raise awareness of its true meaning. He said,
“We just want people to know that the swastika comes in many other forms, none of which have ever been used for anything bad. We are also trying to show the right-wing fascists that it’s wrong to use this symbol. If we can educate the public about the true meanings of the swastika, maybe we can take it away from the fascists.” (Campion, 2014)
The Swastika today
“The Nazis have such brand name power that they are going to be dominating white supremacist symbology for a century to come,”(Willingham, 2017)
Over the years there have been many organised hate groups that have used the Swastika, in America alone there are nine hundred and seventeen hate groups and ninety-nine of these are Neo-Nazis and one hundred and thirty KKK groups. From the American Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the infamous prison gang, the Aryan Brotherhood, these groups have taken this symbol and used it in a similar fashion to Hitler, by maintaining it as a Nazi symbol of negativity. Here in the UK groups like the English Defence League (EDL) and Combat 18 have also used the symbol to encourage hate of different races and people from other countries. (Add Image)
Conner the first character shown on ‘British Neo Nazis Amazing Documentary'(Fain 2016) says that these right-wing groups promise young people the world in return for their loyalty.
COMBAT 18 rose up in the early nineties. It was the first right-wing group in the UK to take the government head-on, entirely rejecting conventional politics by using fear and violence for its agenda. The group originally promised a vicious race war against immigrants they believe are ‘invading’ the UK and a system which it believed to have abandoned its working-class ‘white’ population. It was alluring to disillusioned young men from council estates across the country, because it made no compromise and promised immediate action against the ‘invading forces’. Combat 18 is still around today, it is not the force it once was as the violence and the physical intimidation seems to have turned now to graphics and even a website for their ’cause’. (Add Image – Lampost).
On the 31st of January 2017 ‘Trash Doves’ were released by Adobes creative resident Syd Weller, their intention was to be harmless Facebook stickers that people can add to posts or comments. The Trash Doves are purple Doves or pigeons and even have animated versions known as GIFs, initially it went viral with a head banging pigeon and a dancing Cat video with over three point seven million views in five days. (Add Video) By the 13th of February 2017 Alt right groups flocked to many ‘liberal pages’ on Facebook and started to post the Trash Pigeon in the comments, this was instantly picked up as a sign of online undercover communication between groups and or members of ‘far right’ groups. The Dove is believed to represent the Eagle in the Propaganda poster ‘Long Live Germany’ (Add Image) and it is also compared to Christ when he was baptised by John the Baptise and a Dove descended down on Christ.
“Sickened at how a symbol of peace could be used for such vile purposes”
Many far right groups are now evolving in their persona and changing the typical bomber jacket and shaved head appearance to a more working class look in the hope to connect with more people, a prime example of this is the political party Britain First. Britain first are an ultranationalist British political organisation that assembled in 2011 and mainly consist of former British National Party (BNP) supporters. A. J Willingham from CNN suggests that the symbol is now evolving away from the Nazi Swastika version and is now more commonly hidden in messages when tattooed on these Neo-Nazis. The KKK symbol which has a cross in the middle of a sun disc, just like Hitlers motif, which is also a variation of the swastika and it has a red tear drop in the centre of it. A hidden tattoo of these will be a small red tear drop within another tattoo or under a bottom lip. Hollywood usually shows these Neo Nazis that use the Swastika to inflict emotional responses on people to be very blunt with it, like Edward Nortons portrayal of Derek Vinyard, a racist in ‘America History X’ (Add image). Does the hidden communications mean that these groups are now moving away from the Swastika and can it finally be redeemed?
“The swastika is at this point in time beyond redemption. Despite its historical reference to all sorts of cultures and positive attributes, it is still used by NEO NAZIS to signify their supremacist, hate-ridden, ignorant, murderous ideology.” (Heller,2017)
Even today the symbol is still boycotted, the German government do not allow any public use of and Nazi symbology or paraphernalia including the book Mean Kampf. A recent example of how serious they take this law is that even a video game based on fictional events called ‘Wolfeinstein 2’ that has been recently released on the Xbox one and other consoles. A scene in the European release of the game shows Hitler alive and well surrounded by the Nazi Swastika, he enters the room sporting his trademark moustache, the group he is meeting stand to attention and yell ‘Heil Hitler’. In the German release of the game he enters the room cleanly shaven with no Nazi symbolism to be seen and the group yell ‘mein Kanzler’.
In 2016 a large neo-Nazi group by the name of the ‘National Socialist Movement’ (NSM) announced that it would be shedding depictions of the swastika, their leader, Jeff Schoep told The New York Times in an interview it was “an attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.” (Willingham, 2017). In moving away from the swastika they have now opted for the Othala Rune symbol, from before the Romans started their conquest. (Add image)
The Othala Rune has deep ancestral spiritual power, divine inheritance and homeland, which are all very common beliefs in Aryan, the Runes were used to represent Norse and the Indo-European language, proto-German before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.
Can a singular decade of negative use, destroy fifteen millennia of positivity?
“Time is bound to erase the association of the Swastika with the Nazi Holocaust. Then one of the most distinctive of graphic symbols will be absolved of its latter-day stigma and its early meanings will again be known”.(Dreyfuss,H. 1972, p127)
If the red flag and the white disc is not present, then regardless of the facing of the symbol or geometry then it is just a Swastika. Peter Madsen says, that it is impossible to reclaim the Hakenkreuz version (Swastika), but with the way these hate groups are now changing with the times, then it is a possibility that modern society can open their minds to this symbol (The Swastine).
“Until such time that it no longer has that application (at least in public), the symbol is stuck with adverse symbolism. Anyone who tries to rehabilitate it, at least in Western culture, is a fool. In the East, in India, etc., it has different meanings. But outside those borders it is toxic”.(Heller,2017)
Still the Swastika is confused with the Hakenkreuz and even today people will associate the word, Swastika with the Nazis. In a recent album by controversial USA based rapper Eminem it is used
“Better get the swastika with your name carved in it, Should be your trademark ’cause hate’s all you played off
And you just lick the plate off So I guess it pays to feed off of chaos
So basically, you ate off Hitler!”
(Eminem feat Alisha Keys. 2016)
Still today the association of the Swastika with the Nazi Hakenkreuz is strong, if by some miracle we could save this symbol from the negativity of the Nazi party, would it ever be able to be used freely as a religious symbol?
In research conducted by myself, I found 61.54% of fifty two people did not know what the Swastine symbol is (Add Image), compared to 94.23% percent of the same group knew what the Nazi Hakenkreuz is. (Add image) My research also suggests that most of the hate towards the Swastika is due to lack of education on the subject, could our education system change this or are our minds to closed to the suggestion of it?
The same people were asked if they felt the Swastine symbol could ever be ‘given’ back to the Hindu people to use freely, a surprising 59.52% said yes. I feel that at this point in time the Hakenkreuz has left too much of a lasting impression to ever be recovered, the Swastine on the other hand could soon be up for redemption if we can learn to open our minds to it.
“symbols are never guilty, only people”